May, 2021: Yet another incident that shows the lackadaisical attitude of government law-enforcing authorities towards cases of kidnapping and sexual exploitation of minor girls has emerged from national capital New Delhi.
A 15-year-old girl remained missing for a month from mid-April. Even though the police tracked her location to be in Assam after a week of her alleged kidnapping, they made no efforts to rescue her citing lockdown.
Earlier this week, the girl was recovered from Gurugram in Haryana. It was her own father and maternal uncle who tracked her and brought her home. The police station concerned in New Delhi’s Dwarka area is yet to get the girl medically examined and record her statement.
FIR filed, child commission intervened, but girl remained missing
This correspondent learnt of the case a week after the girl went missing. It was a Twitter user who shared the first information report (FIR), requesting intervention.
The FIR (number 181) was filed at Chhawala Police Station in Dwarka on 18 April 2021 on the complaint of the girl’s father Satpal Suraj Bhan (see the copy below).
The complaint said that his eldest daughter, who is 15 and is a student of Class IX, went away from her home on 17 April without telling anyone. An unidentified person lured her into going with him.
The police booked the unidentified person under IPC Section 363 (kidnapping).
This correspondent spoke to Satpal Bhan over the phone on 25 April. He said that along with his complaint, he had given a copy of the girl’s Aadhaar card to the police. The identity card shows her year of birth as 2005. However, the police did not add sections of POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act in the FIR.
Satpal hails from Baghpat district in Uttar Pradesh. He has been living (on rent) and working in Delhi for about a year. The family belongs to the scheduled Jaatav caste.
Satpal told this correspondent that even though he revealed his caste to the police, they did not add sections of Scheduled Castes Prevention of Atrocities Act in the case.
This correspondent highlighted the case on social media on 25 April by posting a video statement of Satpal and tagging Delhi Police. The video had been recorded by a local resident and was already doing the rounds on Facebook.
In the video, Satpal said that he suspected the hand of his employer, Mehboob Khan, in orchestrating the “kidnapping” of his daughter as he had learnt that Mehboob Khan had brought three men to Satpal’s house in his absence on the morning of 17 April.
Satpal further said in the video that Mehboob Khan runs a dairy using a pseudo name of Dinesh Chikara.
This correspondent also wrote to the National Child Commission. Taking cognisance of the case under Section 13(1)(j) of the CPCR Act, the commission gave a notice to Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Dwarka Santosh Kumar Meena on 26 April (see the notice below).
The notice asked the DCP to intervene in the matter “on priority”. It asked the top cop to trace the girl and give an action taken report to the commission in seven days.
On the same day, the official Twitter account of DCP of Dwarka, @dcpdwarka, replied to this correspondent that “SHO Chhawala has been directed to take necessary action”.
The police, however, neither traced the girl nor replied to the commission’s notice.
What happened after the girl went missing
Satpal told this correspondent that when his daughter went missing, he asked the neighbours if they had seen her go anywhere. He learnt that in the morning, Mehboob Khan had brought three men to his house in his absence.
The neighbours said that late afternoon, the girl left with one of the men. They identified him as Babul Hussain.
Satpal knew Babul by name and face as he had worked at Mehboob Khan’s dairy for a few months.
Satpal said he immediately went to Khan, but he said he knew nothing and advised him to be patient.
With the help of a neighbour, Satpal got the FIR filed. Satpal said that although he named Mehboob Khan and Babul Hussain as suspects, the police did not mention them in the FIR. The police, however, took Babul’s phone number from him.
In the coming days, more people in the neighbourhood learnt about the missing girl. A local grocery store owner, who is associated with some Hindutva activists, met Satpal. He recorded a statement of Satpal on mobile phone and shared it with his activist friends.
By 21 April, the video had been uploaded on Facebook by several accounts, that identified the case as one of “love jihad”.
All efforts however proved to be futile as the girl remained missing for a month.
In this duration, Satpal managed to talk to Babul over the phone once. Satpal says that Babul was rude and refused to bring the girl back. Satpal or his wife Mukesh did not get to talk to the girl, who did not own a phone. Satpal himself uses an old mobile set that does not support WhatsApp.
Satpal says the police did “nothing”.
“Policemen from Chhawala station visited our colony many times after the FIR, but they never met me. Instead, they would visit Mehboob and even have tea at his place,” Satpal says. “They did nothing to find my girl.”
How the girl was eventually rescued
On 16 May, Satpal and his brother-in-law Chandra Mohan went to a location in Gurugram where they eventually found the girl. They brought her back home.
This correspondent met the two men and the minor girl on 18 May. Chandra Mohan said that he had learnt of the matter only a week ago, as Satpal had been hiding it from the family for fear of social shame.
Chandra Mohan, who is the girl’s uncle, said that as soon as he learnt about the matter, he used his friends’ circle to find the location of Babul through a mobile application.
It turned out to be village Badshahpur in Gurugram. On inquiry, he learnt that it was an almost all-Muslim village.
Through connections, he managed to get in touch with a “trustworthy” local youth, who promised that he would quietly point to the house where “a Hindu girl has been brought” but would not get involved beyond that.
“The boy told me, look uncle, I will show you the house, but my name should not figure anywhere else I will be in trouble,” Chandra Mohan told this correspondent.
On the morning of 16 May, Chandra Mohan and Satpal went to the said village on motorcycle. As per the plan, the boy showed them the house.
Luckily for the two, Babul was not at home. They saw the girl and asked her to immediately get up and go with them.
“It was not really a house but a structure built out of tin sheets. The clothes that she was wearing were soiled and even torn at places. We had anticipated that and taken a set of her clothes with us,” said Chandra Mohan.
“It was a huge risk as we couldn’t let neighbours get a whiff of it. The girl readily changed and agreed to come with us. We sped off the spot,” he said.
While escaping, Chandra Mohan took original copies of Babul’s PAN and voter cards which he had spotted in the room.
The identity cards show Babul’s date of birth as 2000 and permanent location as Bongaigaon district in Assam.
Upon their return from Badshahpur, the men called up Rajkumar, who is investigating officer (IO) in the case. Rajkumar told them to immediately bring the girl to the police station. Chandra Mohan, however, asked for some time.
The girl narrated to this correspondent what happened on the day she “eloped”. “Babul came to our house. He told me to pick up my Aadhaar card or any school document I had and immediately go with him. I did as asked. I had met Babul three times earlier as he would come to our house accompanied by [Mehboob] Khan,” she said.
“He had told me that he would provide me everything I wanted from life,” she said.
When asked what profession was Babul into, the girl said she knew him to be a “kabadiwala” (one who deals in scraps).
“Babul took me to his brother’s house in Delhi. We stayed there for two days. Babul’s father then sent him Rs 21,000 from Assam and asked him to take a flight to Assam along with me. The next day, we were on the flight to Assam,” she said.
“I had never seen the inside of a plane before that,” she added.
The girl said that the two stayed in Assam for a week. She said that Babul’s father told him that he would make arrangements for the two to get married. After a week, however, he told Babul to go back to Delhi and wait.
They took a train back to Delhi. “Babul had booked flight tickets for Delhi. But when I learnt about it, I told him that the air journey made me very nervous. So he booked the train tickets,” she said.
On their return, they went to Babul’s brother again. This time, the brother shifted them to a one-room set, which he had already arranged.
The girl said that Babul made physical relations with her for the first time on their return to Delhi. “After that, it was an everyday affair,” she said.
The girl’s hands has ‘Babul’ written on them with henna. “It was Babul who got the mehendi done on my hands. It was on Eid,” she said.
Satpal said that his daughter was too young to understand the ways of the world and had fallen for Babul in no time. “I can assure you that she hardly talked to Babul before going with him. God knows what he told her and what promises he made to her,” he said.
Case in-charge gives excuse of lockdown for inaction
This correspondent called up investigating officer Rajkumar on 20 May. Rajkumar said that after the girl went missing, he got the call detail record (CDR) of Babul’s phone retrieved after three days. He found the location to be Assam.
“It was lockdown so we could not bring her back from Assam,” he said.
Asked why he had ignored the name of Mehboob Khan and Babul Hussain in the FIR, Rajkumar said he did no because they were only suspects till then. Asked why he had not invoked POCSO or SC/ST Act, Rajkumar said that these sections would be added only after the girl’s statement.
It is pertinent to mention here that child commission chairperson Priyank Kanoongo has earlier said that if the family has mentioned a person’s name as a suspected kidnapper of their minor child and expressed a possibility that he/she might be sexually assaulted, then the police must add the person’s name in the FIR and also invoke POCSO Act.
Similarly, an official from the National Scheduled Castes Commission, requesting not to be named as the official is not authorised to be quoted in the media, said that the police must invoke SC/ST Prevention of Atrocity Act if the family named a suspect who does not belong to the SC/ST community.
IO Rajkumar said that since her rescue, he has been asking the girl’s family to bring her to the police station for further procedures, but the family has been delaying it. “Ma’am, if you talk to the family, please ask them to cooperate,” he said.
The procedures that need to be carried out include the girl’s medical examination at a government hospital and recording of her statement before magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC. After this, she would be produced before a child welfare committee.
If she testifies against Babul, he would be booked and tried for kidnapping and rape. If she gives a statement in favour of Babul, he would still be booked for kidnapping and rape as the girl is a minor, but would get bail. She would be kept in a government shelter home till she is 18 and ready to take a decision for herself. In many such cases, the courts allow the girl to live with the kidnapper when she turns 18.
IO Rajkumar said that the police would make the arrests in the case only after the girl’s statement is recorded.
Chandra Mohan told this correspondent on 20 May that although he has no option but to take the girl to the police station, he does not trust the police. “We believe the IO is acting in favour of Mehboob Khan, who is richer than us, and will try his best to get the girl give a statement in Babul’s favour. She is only a child. We however are helpless,” he said.
Meanwhile, Satpal Bhan told this correspondent that the case has “ruined his reputation” and also brought him on the road. “Mehboob Khan sacked me from the job in April. He kicked me and my family out of the one-room set he had given to us. He also refused to pay me my pending dues,” he said.
Satpal said that when he went to meet Khan a week after his daughter had gone missing, by which time many locals and some Hindutva activists had learnt of the matter, Khan told him that if he wanted his daughter back, he would have to “fall at Khan’s feet and leave the company of Hindus”.
Satpal says he took it as a sign of Mehboob Khan asking him to convert to his faith, and refused.
(All conversations quoted in the report are recorded. These include the statements by Satpal Bhan, Chandra Mohan, the minor girl and IO Rajkumar).